Thursday, June 28, 2012

Vegan Eats in Colombia

We recently returned from a wonderful two week vacation in Colombia.  I had googled 'traditional Colombian food' before we arrived to see if anything happened to be accidentally vegan - and learned that Colombia is a very meat-centric country.  Given that all the traditional cuisine (even bean dishes), aren't vegetarian, I was really surprised at how many different vegetarian restaurants there were, and even more surprised when the folks at the veg. restaurants actually knew the word 'vegano', which is vegan in Spanish.   Happy Cow was incredibly helpful to us in finding places we could eat, and Jon kindly updated info on Happy Cow within days of our return which I really appreciate.  Thanks to everyone who keeps Happy Cow up to date, you rock.


In Bogota, we ate at Govinda's, a Hare Krishna restaurant with a fantastic veggie burger, and an enchilada-esque item (in the background of this pic).

Veggie Burger @ Govinda's, Bogota
We ended up going back a second time for the veggie burger - they even had vegan cheese on it!  The fries were a little lacking though.  The waiters were super duper friendly, and we got to see some amusing Hare Krishna-themed movies subtitled in Spanish.  The chairs are plastic and the place has got a bit of a high school cafeteria vibe to it, but I don't really care too much about decor myself, as long as the food's tasty.

The next day we ate lunch at another all-vegetarian restaurant called Zukinis.  Its on the second level in a multi-level building among a bunch of office buildings.  Its a cafeteria style place, where you get a tray and they load it up (there are a few choices), pay, and then go find a table. Lunch plate @ Zukini

Shown above is a quinoa soup, some greens, rice, an empanada, a squash dish, a salad and blackberry juice.  The food here was okay, a little mild-flavored for our tastes, but all decent and certainly very healthy.

We ate dinner at another 2nd floor restaurant: Aquario [no pics], with a tiny health food store on the first level.  We had tamales with seitan in them, but the flavor was kind of blah, and the seitan was too tender for our tastes.  A lot of the vegetarian restaurants weren't open for dinner for whatever reason, so this was one of the few nearby dinner options.

The next evening we ate dinner at Quinoa y Amaranto, a very tiny restaurant close to our hotel offering empanadas.  They usually put an egg wash on their empanadas, but if you call in advance you can get them without.  We didn't call in advance, but learned you could do this once we arrived.  They said this type of empanada didn't have an egg wash.

Dinner @ Quinoa & Amaranth, Bogota

The salad was really tasty, and Jon loved the empanadas, although I wasn't as much in love with them.  We bought some for our airport lunch the next day, and although they said they didn't have egg wash on them, as it turns out, they did, because I tasted that very distinctive eggy flavor and nearly barfed all over the airport.  I noticed the parts of the empanada where the egg wash drips were thicker and more obviously egg tasting due to the accumulated egg.  Luckily, I kept my gag reflex in check, but I wasn't shy about spitting my food out into a napkin in front of whoever. 


After Bogota we flew to Cartagena, a stiflingly hot tourist trap with a very unfortunate tradition of carrying tourists about in horse and carriages.  The sound of the drivers trotting their horses up and down the cobblestone roads all day under the blazing sun was like nails going across a chalkboard.  I couldn't help but think of what an awful life it must be, to be forced to trot up and down baking hot streets while the driver looks for willing tourists.  Despite the heat I never saw the horses being given any water.  The horse and carriages were there day and night, and I don't know how long the horses got to rest, how man hours they were forced to work in a day, or whether there were any laws to protect them - or if there were, whether they get enforced.

Jon's work has an office there and his co-worker Jorge and girlfriend Maria Fernandez kindly met us for dinner at Torre Luna, a restaurant conveniently just steps away from our hotel.  They have a separate vegetarian menu, and I ordered the amazing vegan pesto, which I devoured with relish.  We ordered a passion fruit, mango, and yerbabuena smoothie that was off the hook!  Jon got the veggie paella, which he wasn't too impressed with.  You know who else really enjoyed their dinner?  The local mosquitoes that bit up my legs while we ate.  There are a TON of mosquitoes in Cartagena, watch out!

We had a lot of fun talking to Jorge and Maria Fernandez, and they were nice enough to show us around town after dinner, including a stop at the delectable Gelateria paradiso, with amazing exotic flavors such as Uve de isabella, nispero, mamon among our favorites. Corozo and guanabana were also delicious.  I found a new love, a fruit they call nispero (sapodilla in English).  We also learned that Juan Valdez cafe shops are their equivalent of Starbucks.  The coffee is really good there.  Jorge also let us know about an accelerated learning dance school where you can learn to dance in just a lesson or two.  Jon is damn lucky that I hurt my feet tromping around in heels on that cobblestone, because otherwise we'd know salsa by now.

The next day we lunched at Restaurante Girasoles Vegetariano, another 2nd floor restaurant with a health food store on the first level.  This was a fixed-plate place, and we really enjoyed the food here:

Lunch plate @Restaurante Vegetariano Girasoles, Bogota
Some yummy tvp dish, an asian style stir fry of veggies, a corn fritter, a salad, and my favorite, a small piece of fake ham.  There wasn't anyplace to sit when we arrived, and so some older guy motioned to us to sit with him and another man.  As it turns out the two men didn't know each other either, and once the other guy left we had about 20 minutes of awkward conversation with the older man, including (why, why?), our choice not to have children.  The best part about getting past 'a certain age', whatever age that is, is that our choice not to have children will no longer be a conversation that even random strangers feel they can have with us.

We ate dinner at a darling little Indian place run by Hare Krishnas [no pics], which also has a massage parlor, a small shop, and rooms for rent.  I thought the food there was so so, Jon liked it better than I did.

After Cartagena we spent several days at Costeno Beach Surf Camp, a rustic surf lodge on the beach above Tayrona park, a nature preserve.  We had notified them in advance that we were vegan, so they made us yummy special vegan meals for lunch and dinner, and served us granola without milk for breakfast.  We then stayed one night in Santa Marta, a lovely seaside town.  We enjoyed a tasty lunch at a cafe called Vital

Sarah & lunch @ Vital, Santa Marta
Everything was tasty, except the potatoes, which were kind of dry, but we arrived at the end of their lunch hour and I think they had been sitting on a steam tray for a while.  I ordered a nispero smoothie made with powdered soymilk that was so rich and creamy, it reminded me of milkshakes from McDonalds that I enjoyed as a kid.  I decided I could become rich by importing nispero and selling nispero soy milkshakes.  Sadly for my potential customers (and bank account), I'm just not that motivated.
Late that evening, I was really in the mood for something snacky, but we found that many of the bars didn't serve any food, just drinks.  We settled on a little Mediterranean and Italian place run by a guy from either the U.S. or Canada, who was very accommodating about our diet, and made me two versions of a whiskey sour even though I think its pretty uncommon to order that drink in Colombia because he had to google it :)  I learned that there is a type of whiskey sour with egg whites in it - a Boston whiskey sour.  He was astute enough to ask if I ate eggs before serving me my drink.

We ate quite well in Colombia, way better than I had imagined.  We really enjoyed the gorgeous landscapes, the warm and friendly people, and learning a bit about Colombia's history.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Eggplant Beet Antipasto

Okay, so not really antipasto in any way except that it included peperoncini, but it wasn't exactly salad either, so I'm calling it antipasto.  We'd gotten some beets from the farmers market, and I had in mind a middle eastern flavored salad, so I bought an eggplant.  We were going to roast the beets and eggplant, but it's been hot here in DC, so we scaled back to stovetop sauteing. 

Antipasto Salad
Eggplant/Beet Stuff:
1 medium eggplant, peeled, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 head fresh garlic (from farmers market), chopped roughly
Beets, peeled, sliced 1/4 inch thick, then chopped roughly
1.5 TBS Za'atar spice mix (got mine from Georgetown's spice shop!)
4 Tbs tomato paste
1/3 cup ajvar
2 tbs olive oil
1-1.5 TS cumin
salt to taste
water as needed

Saute the garlic in the olive oil for a few minutes over medium heat  Add the eggplant and beets and about 3 Tbs of water to prevent sticking.  Cover for 5 minutes, check and add more water if needed.  Add ajvar, za'atar, cumin, and tomato paste, with enough additional water to prevent sticking, and stir it around.  Lower heat slightly, and let cook covered for another 10 minutes, then check on it, add water if needed, salt to taste, and then cover and cook maybe another 5-10 minutes.  You don't want the beets to be perfectly soft, just soft enough that its not unpleasant to eat them, they should still have a firm-esque bite to them, surrounded by more tender flesh.

Once the beets are the right consistency, add any additional ajvar, salt, cumin, or za'atar as you see fit.  Set aside to cool.

Other stuff:
black olives
ww toast
chopped carrots

To assemble:  Place clean, dried lettuce on one part of the plate, then two dollops of hummous, a few black olives, 2 peperoncini, and then in one section, your eggplant/beet mixture topped with a handful of chopped carrots.  Toast a piece of bread to go with it.  Now you can enjoy bites of lettuce, beet/eggplant, hummous in one forkful, or put the eggplant/beet mix along with some hummous on your toast.  Its really yum!

Vegan Butter Moratorium Ends!

I didn't mention this, but I imposed an Earth Balance Moratorium on our household since sometime in April, which was when Bryann Clark Grogran posted her recipe for a palm oil free vegan butter.  Bryanna wrote about the destruction of orangutan habitat to make way for palm oil farms, which propted me to read further about palm oil.  My conclusion: palm oil is bad news for the environment and animals.

After she posted the recipe I ordered the deodorized organic cocoa butter, Jon ordered the lecithin and guar gum (after unsuccessful attempts to get these from a local shop), and we used up the last of our last Earth Balance ever (unless of course, they come out with a palm oil free Earth Balance!).  Then life got busy: end of the semester, preparation for our vacation to Colombia, and the ingredients sat for a while. 

However, last weekend I finally had some time on my hands, and set out to assemble the Buttah.  I was kind of scared because I was worried about over mixing it and losing the emulsification.  Emulsification means when liquids that wouldn't normally mix nicely get mixed together evenly and prettily and don't separate. 

Buttah setup
Here is the deodorized cocoa butter on the scale

I believe I actually could have mixed mine a bit more and achieved a little thicker Buttah, but as a first timer, I was just relieved not to have massively screwed it up.  It was super easy to make, like a very easy pudding.

Buttah before stirring
The sunflower lecithin (seen as the dark brown liquid in the photo) had the consistency of molasses

 I added the turmeric because I wanted the extra yellow, but I have to say I don't recommend it.  It gives the Buttah a super yellowy look when put on bread, which seems really unnatural looking, even though turmeric is perfectly natural.  As to the taste, I like it but I have to admit, Earth Balance is better in terms of texture and taste...but not so much better that I'll be pining away for it.  Jon thinks it needs more salt (it has less than normal margarine), but I like the amount of salt.

I've only used it on my toast so far, which is the main use of vegan butter in our house.  We do occasionally make cookies and even more occasionally make a butter cream frosting, but that hasn't come up as of yet. 

I feel much better that I'm now eating in line with my values.